Essential Kayak Fishing Clothing – What to Wear on the Water


When it comes to enjoying the great outdoors – preparation is key.

And this is especially true when you’re out on the water – if you’re not well-prepared, you can be in for a very uncomfortable – and possibly dangerous – experience.

That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide to kayak fishing clothing – so you can take everything you need and nothing that you don’t.

Because there’s no such thing as bad weather – only inappropriate clothing.

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What to Wear Kayak Fishing – In a Few Words

Less time reading, more time fishing, right?! For anyone who can’t spare a moment to explore the wealth of awesome information in this article (if I do say so myself), here it is in short:

man kayak fishing in river

The weather and the season is going to play a big part in how you gear up for your kayak trip, so bear that in mind as you’re reading through – some items can be left out depending on the circumstances.

There’s one essential detail you must never overlook – and that is to always dress for immersion. Which basically means if the water temperature is under 45-degrees, you should be wearing a wet/dry suit.

Aside from that, the key is layer, layer, layer. Wear clothes you can take off and put back on. T-shirts and hoodies are ideal – so long as nothing is made of cotton. Lightweight jerseys/neoprene tops are ideal.

Here is what You really need:

For a more detailed explanation – including suggestions, tips, and advice for all seasons and conditions – keep reading.

Basics to Consider

When choosing the right attire to go kayak fishing, you need to pay attention to the water temperature – rather than the air temperature.

Air temperature can be very deceptive when it comes to dressing appropriately for kayak fishing. While it might feel like a balmy 70 degrees on land, the water temperature might be close to freezing.

If you happen to immerse yourself in such conditions, you’re going to be in a world of hurt if you’re not protected, and you can’t get out fast enough.

As such, it’s essential to wear a wet or drysuit when you’re kayak fishing in colder water temperatures.

Freedom of movement is very important, as any kayaking trip is punctuated by periods of exertion and rest.

Your clothes should be nonrestrictive, and allow you to paddle and fish with ease.

Remember that protection against the sun is every bit as important as warm clothing when it’s cold.

Consider wearing lightweight, UV-protective long sleeves and pants first, but be sure to lather on that sunscreen on exposed skin.

When choosing fabrics, you should avoid cotton things at all costs – which will soak up water like a sponge and then stay wet.

While it might initially be fine on a blazingly hot day, you’ll soon feel the cling and chill the moment the wind gets up.

man stand up fishing on kayak

Avoid clothing with metal zips, fasteners, and other such hardware if you can – and this is especially true for ocean kayak fishing clothing. The saltwater will easily rust and deteriorate your garment in no time.

And always bring a towel and a change of clothes – just in case the weather takes a turn, or you end up in the drink.

Top-tip – towels are especially useful for cleaning the hulls of inflatable fishing kayaks after you’ve pulled them out of the water. It’s easy to forget just how filthy they can make the back of your vehicle.

Warm Season Essentials

Upper Body

While T-shirts are fine for casual, warm days on the water, if you’re going for a more serious kayak fishing excursion, consider a lightweight neoprene top instead.

The same stuff that makes wetsuits and mouse pads, neoprene will help repel water and keep you dry. A soaked cotton T-shirt is guaranteed to be uncomfortable – particularly in windy conditions or if the temperature drops.

Farmer John/Jane style wetsuits are also a good choice – designed to keep your arms free, but cover your torso and legs in a bib-style suit.

As mentioned above, a lightweight compression undershirt will be all you need on your upper body when the weather is warm.

If you prefer something a little less form-fitting, a cool-dry long sleeve top is perfect, offering UV protection with moisture-wicking technology.

Lower Body

Swim shorts, lightweight cargo pants, and neoprene pants are all suitable for wearing on your legs when kayaking in warmer conditions.

Never, ever wear jeans when you’re on the water – no matter the season, weather, or conditions.

Summer Footwear

During the warmer months, it can be tempting to go barefoot in your kayak, but I would recommend a lightweight water shoe instead.

You never know when you’ll need that extra layer over your skin, especially when entering and exiting the water.

Flip-flops, Crocs, sandals and even old sneakers are also suitable, but I would encourage you to choose something that has a good grip. Neoprene booties are an excellent choice.

Your feet will inevitably go in the water at some point, and believe me – when you’re trying to put-in or out, slipping on a rock and stabbing your toes isn’t fun.

two man kayak fishing in summer

Cold Season Essentials

Upper Body

Layers are very important for cold weather kayaking, as you want to have the option to take off and add on depending on the conditions and how hot or cold you’re running at the time.

That’s the challenge with this sport, as you can have moments where you’re working up a serious sweat, followed by a long period of inactivity and cool down.

Look for garments that have moisture-wicking technology that will help regulate your body temperature, while reducing the amount of sweat that remains in contact with your skin.

In winter, I would always consider using a dry suit for kayak fishing, but rain jackets over a polyester hoodie or other jersey will work well in the fall or early spring.

Fleece-lined polyester jackets are a great choice for casual kayak fishing during these seasons, too.

But always remember to dress for the water temperature. Without protection, our bodies will start to lose their muscular capabilities within 10 minutes in water that’s 41 degrees.

Lower Body

Waders are a good option for cold season kayak fishing, as they’ll keep your lower half completely dry, and you won’t have a miserable butt if you’re sitting in a puddle of water for a long time.

Waterproof cargo or hiking pants are also worn, but you might want to consider thermals underneath if the air is particularly chilly.

Dedicated kayak paddling pants are also an option, but you’ll pay a bit more for them.

Again, drysuits are strongly recommended even if the conditions are mild.

And here are some extra winter kayak fishing tips just for good measure. Check them out if you plan on kayaking in the colder climes.

Winter Footwear

Keeping your feet warm and dry in colder temperatures is imperative, as you’re in for a miserable experience if you don’t get it right.

Fishing or wading boots are ideal, especially as they’ll keep your feet warm and dry, as well as offering a grippy lug on the sole. They can also help you if you enjoy standing casts and reels from your kayak deck.

However, you can still wear water shoes so long as you add an extra layer. Neoprene socks are perfect, and will help insulate your foot and keep you dry.

Remember – look after your feet, and everything else will fall into place.

person standing up while fishing in kayak

A Word on Wet/Dry Suits

The best cold water kayak fishing clothing is a wet or dry suit.

Beginners are often put off by this, as choosing one can be a bit intimidating. There’s certainly a lot to consider, and it can be daunting to first-timers.

Apart from it being able to save your life, once you own one, it actually makes choosing what to wear for kayak fishing a breeze.

Consider using a “short John/Jane” version, which is a wet/dry suit that covers the torso and legs down to the knees.

For the purposes of kayak fishing, as a rule of thumb, a wetsuit is better if you’re going in the water, while a dry suit is preferable if you’re staying out of it. As such, a dry suit is usually the better choice for this sport.

Check out the video below for more detailed information and assistance in choosing the right option for you.

All Seasons and Conditions

There are several items of clothing and kit that are essential regardless of the season, temperature, or water conditions. Don’t leave home without them.

Underwear

Bathing suits are a popular choice as your base layer when kayaking in the summer, but I prefer to simply wear a good, moisture-wicking trunk that’s nonrestrictive and made from a breathable, non-cotton fabric.

Thermals are ideal for winter, but again, make sure they can breathe and take any moisture away from your skin.

A lightweight, long-sleeve compression shirt is also ideal as a base layer all-year-round, as it can be worn alone in the summer for UV protection, and part of a layer system in the winter for extra warmth.

Hat and Sunglasses

Anyone who’s ever been out boating on a sunny day will know just how blinding the sun can be when it reflects off the water. If you’re in a kayak without sunglasses – you’re going to be in a world of hurt.

They’re not there just to make you look cool – you’ll be able to save your eyesight AND see what you’re doing.

Likewise, a good quality fishing hat helps keep those UV rays off your bonce, so make sure you’re wearing one when out in the sun.

Warmer hats for winter kayak fishing will keep you warm and comfortable, and the winter sun can be just blinding, so don’t forget those sunnies even when it’s cold outside.

Fishing/Paddling Gloves

When I got into kayaking for the first time, I used to go out without any gloves. After even the briefest of paddles, I would have the odd blister, or callused, chapped hands.

I swear by my paddling gloves, and you can get some awesome fishing gloves that double as protection while using a paddle, and for when you’re handling fish, sharp hooks, knives, and other potentially hazardous items.

They also keep your hands protected from the sun – which is another essential benefit.

And speaking of sharp things, check out this review on the best fishing knives for some versatile tools to keep in your tackle box.

man in white kayak fishing

Lip Balm and Sunscreen

While not regarded as kayak fishing clothing – you still “wear” them, and they’re essential for a comfortable day on the water.

Even when fishing shady river banks, you’re still exposed out there, and you need as much UV protection as you can get.

Apply a UV-rated lip balm and adequate factor sunscreen before setting out, and if you’re fishing for the whole day, keep some on hand for top-ups.

Personal Flotation Device

Last, but by no means least.

You could kayak naked for all I care, but you should never, EVER be without your PFD. Kayak fatalities are on the rise because people fail to adhere to this one simple life saving rule.

Check out this article on the best fishing PFDs – which will not only keep you from going under, but provide some handy extra storage space for your tackle and gear.

They’re not like life vests of old, and have been specifically designed for paddle sports, with a non-restrictive cut and shape that’s compatible with you and your kayak seat.

And don’t just stash it on board lashed to the bungee or in the tank well – there are alarming figures recorded where the drowned victim brought their PFD along, but wasn’t actually wearing it at the time.

Don’t become a statistic.

FAQs

Do you get wet kayak fishing?

Yes, you do. While you might think this is only going to happen if you fall in or capsize, in actual fact it happens when you’re paddling and when you’re landing a fish.

It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.”

You’re going to get wet – and you should plan accordingly to wear the right clothes depending on the temperature of the water.

What should a beginner wear kayak fishing?

The same thing a pro wears. Lightweight tops and pants in warmer waters, and a dry suit when it’s cold.

The key is to always dress for immersion. From amateur to expert, wear the right kind of clothes for the water temperature and expecting to end up in the drink – even if you never do.

What should I wear kayak fishing in winter?

A dry suit is essential when winter kayak fishing, as it’s the only thing that’s going to protect you should you be submerged in those dangerously-low water temperatures.

The inability to function to your full capacity happens alarmingly fast when submerged in cold water – and it doesn’t even have to be freezing.

Don’t fob it off claiming it wouldn’t happen to you – and you’d be able to get back on board in no time. That’s how foolish people die from hypothermia.

But don’t take my word for it – check out this article from the Scientific American on how long someone can last in frigid water.

Can I wear a bathing suit for kayak fishing?

You can – providing the water temperature is safe to do so.

I would advise caution, though, as there’s plenty of other hazards when you’re fishing from a kayak that can cause some damage if that’s all you’re choosing to wear.

Not least from a strong fighting fish, should you manage to land something that really doesn’t want to be there.

What shoes should you wear for kayak fishing?

Water shoes are advisable for kayaking in summer, while fishing boots or wading shoes should be your winter option. Water shoes with neoprene socks can also be suitable for winter attire – just so long as you’re warm enough.

Both should have the best possible grippy lug to prevent slips.

Either way, barefoot kayaking is fine, but it’s not that practical – as anyone who has stubbed a toe under the surface will testify.

What gear do I need for kayak fishing?

As well as all the right clothing, you also should kit yourself out with the right gear.

Thankfully, I’ve written a full article on the subject, and you should go here to discover the ultimate kayak fishing gear list.

Number one – a kayak.

Summary

What you wear when you’re out on the water can make a huge difference to your comfort, safety, and success.
With the right kayak fishing clothing, your day stands a better chance of being memorable – for all the right reasons. Be prepared, as the scouts say.

Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything off that you swear by, or if you’d like to share any interesting kayak fishing tales with the community.

Stay safe out there, tight lines, and happy fishing!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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